This is the gnome o'clock gnews, and the gnews is that Ingrid's Back! with a vengeance, and with an exclamation mark as well. We all know that gnome gnews is good gnews, and if you enjoyed Gnome Ranger the first thing you'll want to know is whether the follow-up is in the same class? The bad news is that it isn't. The good news is that it's even better! More bad news is that the graphics are awful. But the good news is that there are no graphics in the tape versions anyway. And the goodest news of all is that the text is lengthy, funny and totally right for the game. In a word: brillicando! (This is a word I've just invented as nothing else is suitable.)
The +3 disk version has about 30 monochrome piccies on side two, but you can switch them off if you like or simply not turn the disk over in the drive. You can also slide them up and down with the cursor keys, if that's what turns you on. There are full editing facilities if you mistype anything, which I'm always doing on the +3 keyboard; a multiple UNDO command (lets you go back several moves); RAM SAVE and RESTORE; and save to disk (natch!) with room for up to 15 different positions on one disk.
Tape owners get three cassettes (one for each part of the three-part game) with 48K versions on one side and 128K on t'other. The 48K version lax pix, UNDO and RAM SAVE/RESTORE, while the 128K version merely lax pix and has expanded text. What more could you ask? What, you want a good adventure as well? Hang on, hang on, I'm coming to that.
First you'll be delighted to know that Ingrid's Back! returns to the familiar Level 9 packaging that we all know and love from the days of Snowball and before. In other words, it's all in a big black box with the "L9" logo written across it in white. And in the box is The Second Gnettlefield Journal, containing loading instructions, advice for beginners, a few hints and a copy of Ingrid's diary from Airsday the 16th of Gnovigour through to Fireday the 21st of Deadembers: a significant period in the annals of Little Moaning, Ingrid's home village.
In Gnome Ranger the very willing but exceedingly disaster-prone Ingrid was accidentally (on purpose) banished to the wilderness by her family. Now she's found her way back, and discovered that Little Moaning is about to be yuppified by Jasper Quickbuck, the new Lord of Ridley's Manor. This involves turfing all the gnomes out of their homes so the area can be 'improved', but if anyone can do something about it then Ingrid can, so to begin with she starts a petition against the planned evictions. Don't worry if you haven't played Gnome Rangerfirst, as you can go straight into Ingrid's Back! without playing the previous game.
The first part of the adventure shows how much Level 9 has come on since it introduced its new super-system with Knight Orc. That game gave the player a simple goal to begin with but had lots of wasted locations and any number of characters wandering round doing a very limited range of actions. Now Level 9 has added what it calls a 'racetrack' system for controlling other characters, giving them a much wider range of movements and greater interaction between them and the player. Locations are fewer but far more detailed, and you've only got to call in at the Green Gnome Inn to get a glimpse of what life is like on a busy day at Little Moaning. Characters wander in and out, talking to each other, ordering drinks, and very convincing it all is too They also serve a good Ploughgnome's Lunch here - a raw turnip with the mud left on. Yummy!
What's retained from Knight Orc is the 'simple' initial quest, which is that Ingrid must get ten signatures on the petition that she's carrying at the start. Some of the signatures are straightforward, and beginners will get a sense of achievement as their score grows and they get used to the many sophisticated commands within the game. Old hands (and they don't come any older than me) should whizz through in a few hours, chuckling all the while and only having to strain the grey matter over getting the last few signatures. Then the trouble really starts...
The text is cracking stuff, and Level 9 has been sensible enough to let Peter McBride loose on the whole game instead of limiting him to Ingrid's Diary as happened last time. There were some who said the diary was funnier than the adventure - not this time! I loved the fisherman, Boney Spratt - well actually he's the ferryman. But he spends a lot of time fishing in order to supply food to the Inn to feed the increasing number of travellers who stay there. This increase in inn dwellers is due to the fact that people can't get across the river due to the ferryman spending hours fishing to provide... you get the idea. You also get Boney's signature on your petition if you can get him his boat back. This is marooned on the other side of the river, and the bridge across is broken. The problem of getting over the bridge has a neat, original and very funny solution.
If you climb a ladder up to Mrs Tackhammer's bedroom window you discover her looking a bit flustered and red in the face. There are also creaking sounds coming from the wardrobe - an ideal time to give her your petition to sign I'd have thought! After you've got the first few names you're reminded which gnomes haven't yet signed, which is a good idea.
You can play all three parts independently if you like, but I've been trying to do them in the right order, so I can't tell you much about part three yet, except that it involves Ingrid infiltrating Ridley's Manor to try to put a final stop to Quickbuck's evil schemes. Petitions aren't very effective you see, which you discover at the start of part two when you're back with your family at Gnettlefield Farm. A steamroller's beating down on your house you see - shades of the start of Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy here, except that lying down in front of the steamroller doesn't do much good at all. Diversion works, though, and you'll have to make full use of commands like FOLLOW, FIND and so on. Pleasing to see that adventure-writers are getting to grips with sensible ways of using these features, instead of just implementing more sophisticated commands and then wondering what to do with them.
Not that the program's faultless, and that's the only thing preventing me from awarding it my first-ever personal mark of 10/10. At one point you have to enter a dogless carriage, but CLIMB IN/CLIMB INTO/ENTER/BOARD CARRIAGE all fail to work, and only the last one I tried, GET INTO CARRIAGE, is understood. Elsewhere I typed FIND MISTRESS SPRATT, which took me to Mr Spratt, and FIND MRS SPRATT took me to Mrs Tuckhammer. Oh well, nobody's perfect.
All in all, though, I've had more fun with Ingrid's Back! than with any adventure for ages, and it even pips the excellent Lancelot as being in my opinion... wait for it... the best Level 9 release ever. That'll set the gnome among the pigeons, but there can't be any denying the quality of this game. An ideal gnome exhibition if ever there was one.